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NUNC COGNOSCO EX PARTE

THOMAS J. BATA LIBRARY TRENT UNIVERSITY

Digitized by the Internet Archive in 2019 with funding from Kahle/Austin Foundation

https://archive.org/details/mostlyaboutbengaOOOObroo

MOSTLY ABOUT BENGAL

For My Father And Mother who gave me a love of books but from whom I also learnt that people are to be most dearly cherished

First Published 1982 © 1982 J.H. Broomfield Published by Ramesh Jain Manohar Publications 2 Ansari Road, Darya Ganj New Delhi-110002 Printed at Dhawan Printing Works 27-A Mayapuri, Phase I New Delhi-110064

For My Father And Mother who gave me a love of books but from whom I also learnt that people are to be most dearly cherished

Preface

It is 20 years since I began research on modern South Asia. There’s a sobering thought! It seems a good time to take stock, and what better way than by collecting the scattered products of that research so they can be critically re-examined by myself and others? I doubt there is anyone who has read all the articles republished in this volume, certainly no one in South Asia where foreign journals are so difficult to obtain. One of my major objectives is to make them more readily available here, to have the benefit of criticism from South Asian colleagues. The process of unearthing one’s old writings—a personal, intellectual archaeology—is not without pain. There are things I have said that I would not nowadays care to repeat. Some (dare I admit it?) are gauche, brash, or downright wrong. Well—more eminent women and men than I have “mispoken” themselves these past few years. I have made no attempt to tinker with the articles. They are reprinted as they originally appeared, with only misprints and a few bald factual errors eliminated. Looking through the work I see evidence of intellectual growth. My first published article, “A Plea for the Study of the Indian Provincial Legislatures”, opened with a quotation from one of Nirad Chaudhuri’s fulsome tributes to imperialism. Yet by 1963 my favourable view of the record of British rule in

Vlll

PREFACE

India was already sufficiently modified to provoke from one of my doctoral examiners, C.H. Philips, the good-humoured admonition that I did not give the British even the benefit of the doubt. I took that as a compliment. In regard to the same article, it is noteworthy how much has been done in these past two decades to complete its proposed agenda of regional studies of political institutions and groups. These have been extraordinarily productive years for South Asian historians. Historiographically the most significant article is the first in the volume because it provoked wide-ranging discussion of the concepts, region and elite—as much, perhaps, because of its shortcomings as its strengths. Ironically it was drafted in one morning, in the summer of 1964 after a weekend’s discussion with Eugene Irschick of a proposed panel for the following year’s Association for Asian Studies meetings. It is the only piece I have ever composed on the typewriter, which probably explains its distinctive style. The panel, chaired by Bernard Cohn, had papers from Paul Brass, Irschick, and me, with W.H. Morris-Jones, Maureen Patterson, and Myron Weiner as discussants. It preparing for it, Brass, Cohn, Irschick, and I exchanged memoranda, which we shared with Robert Crane, who contributed comments. I also discussed our ideas with O.P. Goyal, who was visiting Michigan. While compiling the present volume, I re-read the notes and, realising how unusual and valuable they are, I sought permission of the other parti¬ cipants to publish them as an appendix to the “Regional Elites” article. They kindly agreed. I was also reminded of an excitement that accompanied the panel. Though its date (April 2, 1965) is well-remembered in the Irschick family, Gene claims only the haziest recollection of actual proceedings. He arrived late, barely in time to read his paper, direct from the maternity ward where his wife, Anne, had just given birth to their first child. That evening the panelists repaired to the hospital to visit Anne and Jessica, but there by the bedside became embroiled in a heated debate on the relative merits and demerits of non-violent resistance. Professors! Most of these papers have a story, as I imagine is true of every historian's work. “The Vote and the Transfer of Power”, for example, was composed in pique. In March 1961, with my

IX

PREFACE

first research visit to Calcutta almost at an end, I had written to one of my doctoral supervisors, Anthony Low, boasting of all the archival gems I had mined in the Writers’ Building. From the reply, it was clear Anthony was far less impressed than I. He said he doubted I could see the wood for the trees, and he reminded me that, on return to the Australian National University, I would be expected to give a work-in-progress seminar. Feeling thoroughly put out, I sat down to write a paper that would prove him wrong—and thereby learnt a lesson from which my own students continue to suffer: a well-timed kick in the backside stimulates the brain. The bhadralok made their debut in this same article, but unfortunately I costumed them improperly. These were early days, and I had not yet perceived how misleading it is to des¬ cribe them as “Hindu middle class”, which was then the gene¬ rally accepted categorization. As I explain below (“The NonCooperation Decision of 1920”, section III), the bhadralok are most usefully defined, in the period with which I am dealing (1900-1930), not as a class but a status group with high rather than middle ranking. The book has a second appendix. It comprises comments on the chapter “Peasant Mobilization in Twentieth-Century Bengal” by two men who had intimate experience of rural struggle. One is Mr. Frank Bell, I.C.S., whose service as Settle¬ ment Officer and District Magistrate in the 1930s and 1940s included such critical districts as Rangpur, Dinajpur, Midnapore and Dacca. As I mention in a footnote to “The Rural Parvenu” article, he has preserved his invaluable tour diaries, and depo¬ sited them, along with other papers, at the India Office Library. Blessed be such friends of scholarship. The second is Dr. Sunil Sen, to whom the article is dedicated. Now Professor of History at Rabindra Bharati University, he has provided in his Agrarian Struggle in Bengal, 1946-47 (New Delhi, 1972), an important source on the Tebhaga movement, in which he participated. I am indebted to these gentlemen for allowing me to print their observations. One more story will explain another aspect of the book. The first words my Aunt Winifred ever spoke to me were: “There should have been a bibliography. It’s a good book, but why is there no bibliography?” She was referring to my Elite Conflict

X

PREFACE

in a Plural Society, published in 1968. I shall leave for the present the mystery of why I was meeting my aunt for the first time when well past thirty years of age, and I shall also decline to answer her question. But the reader will surely appreciate that, for someone who has been suspected since his student days of suffering from bibliogmania, I could not risk the chagrin of repeating that performance. This second book had to have a bibliography. Though limited to a selection of publish¬ ed works cited in the text, it will prove satisfactory, I trust. Aunt Win? The reader’s indulgence is sought in one matter: the overlap existing in a few places in the articles reprinted here. In two cases it was considerable enough to make me hesitant about including the papers, but the press persuaded me there was value in so doing. In a book mostly about Bengal, a linguistic region in which Islam is the religion of the majority, it is regrettable there is so little about Muslims. It is even more regrettable to observe that Muslims play a larger part in this book than in most written on Bengal. There is even less said here about women. I trust that in the next 20 years, as historians, we shall all broaden our horizons to encompass more than the male portion. The work of our female colleagues already points the way. John Broomfield

Acknowledgements

In twenty years of research and writing one amasses such debts of gratitude to people and institutions that it is impossible to repay in words all who helped, advised, and criticized. My thanks go to them all, especially to those who assisted in gather¬ ing materials: Anne Epstein, Jenni McGinn, Nancy Mate, Michael Pearson, Annegret Pollard, Minati Roy, Mukul Roy, and Niranjan Sen Gupta. Acknowledgement is given to the following publications in which the chapters now reprinted originally appeared: “The Regional Elites: A Theory of Modern Indian History”, Indian Economic and Social History Review, vol. Ill, no. 3, September 1966. “The Partition of Bengal: A Problem in British Administra¬ tion, 1830-1912”, Indian History Congress, Proceedings of the 23rd Session, Aligarh 1960, Part II. “A Plea for the Study of the Indian Provincial Legislatures”, Parliamentary Affairs,, vol. XIV, no. 1, Winter 1960-61. “The Vote and the Transfer of Power: A Study of the Bengal General Election, 1912-1913”, Journal of Asian Studies, vol. XXI, no. 2, February 1962. “The Forgotten Majority: The Bengal Muslims and Septem¬ ber 1918”, and “The Non-Cooperation Decision of 1920: A Crisis in Bengal Politics”, Soundings in Modern South

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Asian History (London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1968, ed. D.A. Low). ‘Four Lives: History as Biography”, South Asia, no. 1, August 1971. ‘Gandhi: A Twentieth-Century Anomaly?”, Change and the Persistence of Tradition in India: Five Lectures (Ann Arbor, Michigan Papers on South and Southeast Asia no. 2, Center for South and Southeast Asian Studies, 1971, ed. Richard L. Park). ‘The Social and Institutional Bases of Politics in Bengal, 1906-1947”, Aspects of Bengali History and Society (Honolulu, University Press of Hawaii, 1975, ed. Rachel van M. Baumer). ‘Peasant Mobilization in Twentieth-Century Bengal”, Forging Nations: A Comparative View of Rural Ferment and Revolt (East Lansing, Michigan State University Press, 1976, ed. Joseph Spielberg and Scott Whiteford). ‘The Rural Parvenu: A Report of Research in Progress”, South Asian Review, Vol. VI, no. 3, April 1973.

Abbreviations

Native Papers

Report on Native Papers in Bengal (Calcutta, Government of Bengal, weekly from 1876-)

PP

Parliamentary Papers, Great Britain

.

;

-

.

Contents

Preface

vii

Acknowledgements

xi

Abbreviations

1. The Regional Elites: A Indian History

xiii

Theory

of

Modern 1

Appendix A 2. The Partition of Bengal: A Problem Administration, 1830-1912

15 in

British 26

3. A Plea for the Study of the Indian Provincial Legislatures

41

4. The Vote and the Transfer of Power: A Study of the Bengal General Election, 1912-1913

54

5. The Forgotten Majority: The Bengal Muslim and September 1918

84

6. The Non-Cooperation Decision of 1920: A Crisis in Bengal Politics

118

7. Four Lives: History as Biography

158

XVI

8. 9.

CONTENTS

Gandhi:

A

Twentieth-Century Anomaly?

The Social and Institutional Bases of Politics in Bengal,

10.

183

Peasant

1906-1947

197

Mobilization

in

Twentieth-Century

Bengal Appendix 11.

B

The Rural Parvenu:

215 A

Report

of

Research in

Progress

240

Select Bibliography

259

1 The Regional Elites: A Theory of Modern Indian History

This paper will have served its purpose if it simply raises doubts as to the validity of some of the generally accepted assumptions underlying the interpretation of modern Indian history. It tries to expose a few of the current cliches, and if, in the reader’s opinion, it merely trades old cliches for new, then I hope the resulting dissatisfaction will stimulate someone to offer fresh ideas to vary the rather stale fare of Indian historiography. The paper is full of grand subcontinental generalisations, but where I have paused to illustrate my argument I have chosen evidence from Bengal, which is my field of research. 1. One of the great social significances of the eighteenth century in the Indian international sub-sys em, with its internal political disorder and emerging power of the Europeans, was the destruction of the pow'er of existing ruling groups. This was effected not simply by military and political means, but also through radical changes in such areas as trade, law, and landrevenue assessment. It was accompanied for many of the dis¬ placed ruling groups by a loss of control over land. 2. At the same time large opportunities opened up in various places in the international sub-system for those able to take advantage of them. There were special opportunities in the three initial areas of British intrusion, Bengal, Madras, and

2

MOSTLY ABOUT BENGAL

Maharashtra, and the groups which grasped those opportunities became the elites in these societies in the nineteenth century. 3. The development of each of these elite groups was deter¬ mined by the following factors: A. The Group's Experience before the British Intrusion audits Situation at That Time. This largely determined what “cultural baggage” the group carried with it into the new situation. At this point 1 would question the utility of the commonly used metaphor of a British impact on India, with its implication of a dynamic force—expansive Europe—hitting a static object— Indian society. I believe that we are better able to understand the effects of the British intrusion if we take account of the fact that the pattern of relationships among Indian elites was subject to constant change in periods before the European arrival, as much as in the period of European dominance. We must recognise that in many areas, and certainly in the peri¬ pheral areas with which 1 am primarily concerned, there was considerable social mobility in pre-European times. Certainly the British presence affected the direction and possibly also the speed of movement, most directly by providing new opportunities for economic gain, but it is significant that the groups which took advantage of these new opportunities did so very largely in terms of their old methods of action. To illustrate this let us look at Bengal. In that area before the British arrival there was fairly extensive international trade, considerable manufacturing in inland centres, and developed administrative and judicial organisation in the Mughal province and in the Hindu rajadoms, which occupied extensive areas of Bakarganj and Chittagong districts in the east, and Bankura and Burdwan districts in the west. Thus there were opportunities for enterprise in administration, law or commerce which para¬ lleled those which were to be available after the British arrival, and it appears to have been the same group which took advant¬ age of the opportunities in both periods. One see s in particular the movement of Brahmins, Baidyas, and Kayasthas into the service of the East India Company from similar service under the Hindu rajas or in the Mughal system. They were able to move in to the new system because they already possessed cer¬ tain skills: experience in administration and law; entrepreneurial techniques and an accustomed readiness to work in an alien

THE REGIONAL ELITES

3

lingua franca (the talents of the dubash: the go-between); literacy, and experience in using that literacy in the service of organ¬ isation. The group’s experience before the British intrusion and its situation at that time, I said earlier, largely determined what “cultural baggage” it carried with it into the new situation. In the Bengal case, these skills were part of that baggage. B. The Nature of the New Opportunities Offered. Just as the experience and situation of the groups in the various regions differed, so did the opportunities of which they were able to take advantage. For Bengal I would point in particular to the development of Calcutta as the British capital in India; and the opportunity for those who prospered in service to invest in landed property. Access to land for the new administrative elite was provided by the inequitable land revenue settlements of the period 1770 to 1790, the recognition by the law courts of the principle that land was saleable to realize debt, and the command of the legal system by the same group which had capital free for investment as a result of its success in service. By investing in land in pre¬ ference to commerce, the elite revealed another piece of its cultural baggage: its belief in the superior prestige and security resulting from the possession of landed property. C. The Manner in Which the Group Came to Terms with the New Situation. There are a number of points to be noted here i. some modus vivendi had to be reached with things European, whether through total acceptance, a synthesis, or rejection. I lump these three together for although they appear to be fundamentally different they were all possible responses to the European intrusion, and even among those elite groups which were to benefit from the opportunities almost the whole range of response was to be found from individual members, or, perhaps more significantly, from the group as a whole towards different items of the intruders’ values. The range from total acceptance at one end to rejection at the other should be seen as a continuum. It is one of the unfortunate con¬ sequences of the impact on India metaphor that we have generally concentrated our attention on one end of that scale, where we have isolated a phenomenon which we

MOSTLY ABOUT BENGAL

4

have labelled “westernisation,” and in doing so have lost sight of its integral relationship to the whole range of actual response. 77. the fact is important that the groups which had been able to grasp the opportunities and become elites were high caste, with pride in their roles as guardians of great cultural traditions. As a consequence we see in all three regions—Bengal, Madras, and Maharashtra—an articulate reconsideration of the local cultural tradition and a concern with its adaptation to the new intellectual situation. Each of the elites developed a new and distinct cultural synthesis, draw¬ ing in part upon European ideas but drawing as well upon their past experience. Hi. the elite had not only to look upward to the Europeans and European culture, it had also to look downward to the lower strata of its own society, and work out for the new situation new relationships with them. Again the proud caste status of the elites was important. In Bengal, where there was a running discuss on throughout the nine¬ teenth century on the proper ordering of society, the elites justified their social dominance, at least to their own satis¬ faction, by a definition of their position which nicely com¬ bined their ascriptive caste ascendancy with their achieve¬ ment. They called themselves b'aadralok: the respectable people. Bhadralok was almost synonymous with high casteBrahmin, Baidya, and Kayastha—but not quite, for this was an open not a closed status group.1 A British govern¬ ment report of 1915 correctly, if rather tactlessly, descri¬ bed Bengali society as “a despotism of caste, tempered by matriculation.”2 “The school,” wrote the Government of Bengal on another occasion, “is the one gate on the society of bhadralok,”3 Education, especially English-language T have accepted here Max Weber’s definition of status group, and his distinction between open and closed status groups. See H.H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills (ed .), From Max Weber; Essays in Sociology (New York, 1958), p. 405. •Bengal District Administration (Calcutta, 1915), p; 176.

Committee,

1913-1914

Report,

3Report cf the Indian Statutory Commission, (London, 1930), vol. III,. “Memorandum of the Government of Bengal,” p. 24.

THE REGIONAL ELITES

5

education, professional and clerical employment, and the literate culture to which that education gave access, as well as the acceptance of high-caste proscriptions, were the measures of bhadralok status. The bhadralok’s role was to lead. In their eyes it was as proper that they should be the political class, that they should dominate the learned professions, that they should control the institutions of education, and that they should provide Bengal with its music, art and literature, as that they should be accorded honour in village and town as the respectable people. They were benevolent in their attitude to the lower orders, but it was as often a benevolent disdain as a benevolent paternalism. 4. Involved for each group in the process of coming to terms with the new situation was the process of forming a new identity.4 This new identity found its expression in distinct interpretations of the past, in distinct cultural values, in distinct styles of life, in attitudes distinct as to the proper organisation of society, in distinct institutions, and in the distinct use of language. Distinct, that is to say, from other groups within the regional societies as also from the elites in other regions. My last point, the distinct use of language needs no labour¬ ing. A moment's reflection will remind you of the role which the elites played in the nineteenth-century development of Bengali, Tamil, and Maharathi, and the immense significance to them of these achievements. I will select one other item from the Bengal experience further to illustrate my point: the bhad¬ ralok’s distinct view of the past. By the 1880s and certainly by the time of Vivekananda’s evangelism, the bhadralok had a generally accepted interpretation of their history which not only explained the foreign conquest of Bengal, but gave a sanction to the cultural division between elite and non-elite in the 4J define group identity in this way: A group with identity has agreed values, understood internal relationships, accepted roles for various members at developing stages of life, a language and channels of communication, a shared interpretation of the past and hopes for the future, common heroes, common symbols, and common myths. The members of such a group are aware of their membership, and the group is identifiable by other groups and individuals in the society.

6

MOSTLY ABOUT BENGAL

society, and provided direction for future bhadralok action. Bengal once strong in the classical age, it was said, had been emasculated by the quietist doctrines of Buddhism and the emotional popular cults of medieval Hinduism. The “true Brahmanical virtues” of intellectual initiative and rational selfassertion had been neglected, and the degradation of the Muslim conquest was a natural consequence. “Let us think for a moment of the fatal and universal weakness which had beset our people when the English first came to this land,” Chittaranjan Das exhorted his fellow Bengal Congressmen in 1917. “Our Religion of Power—the Gospel of‘Sakti’—had become a mockery of its former self; it had lost its soul of beneficence in the “petition of empty formulas and the observance of meaning¬ less mummeries.. . . The Hindus of Bengal had lost strength and vigour alike in Religion, Science, and Life.”5 To Das, as to other bhadralok of his own and the preceding generation, it was self-evident that it was their ordained mission, as Bengal’s culture elite, to restore the glory of Bengal through strength in action. This interpretation of the past, with its implicit doctrine of elite action, as effectually separated the bhadralok from the mass of their fellow Bengalis, whether Muslims or Vaisnava Hindus, as it did from the Madrasi and Maharashtrian elites, whose historical reinterpretations were concerned with other places and directed to other problems. Taking a general view of this process of identity formation it is important to note: a. the intense emotional attachment of the elite to each of the channels of expression of their new identity. b. the complexity and sophistication of these forms of expression. This fact has been badly played down, largely it seems as a consequence of that concept “westernisation,” which implies cultural borrowing or copying. Certainly these new Indian cultures were indeb¬ ted to Europe, just as Europe in an earlier age had been indebted to western Islam, but they were not carbon ‘“Bengal and the Bengalees”, Presidential Address, Bengal Provin¬ cial Conference, Calcutta, April 1917. Rajen Sen ed.: Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das. Life and Speeches, (Calcutta, 1926), p. 11.

THE REGIONAL ELITES

7

copies—black, smudged, imperfect reproductions of an exotic original. They were themselves originals; distinct cultures with fairly complex institutional structures by the end of the nineteenth century. c. that they were regionally developed and regionally distinct. 5. The elites had social power but as subject people of a foreign imperialism they did not have satisfactory political power. As a qualification to this statement, it is important to realise (as neither of the “classical schools of modern Indian history— British or nationalist—appears to have done) that the Indian elites did have some political power under the British. The major reason for the common failure to recognise this fact is that “politics” appears to have been defined too narrowly. As a consequence of the classical schools’ exclusive concern with the struggle between the nationalists and the British for control of the state, “politics” and “nationalism” have usually been equat¬ ed, and “non-nationalist” politics, if not totally disregarded, have been seen as “anti-nationalist.” The failure to take account of the elites’ political power has been a source of misinterpretation in a number of areas: a. the British are incorrectly represented as having been free agents in constitutional reconstruction. b. British attempts to use constitutional reforms as a way to change the power relationships between elites and counter¬ elites have been largely under-estimated and the conse¬ quent grave dangers to order have been overlooked. c. the leaders of the political elites have not been given due credit for the self-restraint and concern for the maintenance of order which they usually displayed in the exercise of their power. Nor conversely have the limitations imposed upon them by the responsibilities of power been recognis¬ ed. d. the contest between elites and counter-elites have normally been seen as a contest for future power, not for the control of present power.

8

MOSTLY ABOUT BENGAL

With these qualifications in mind, we can turn to the primary point that the elites did not have satisfactory political power. Seek¬ ing to be master of its own political future and as a further expres¬ sion of its dentity, each elite developed a nationalism. For this the inspiration was European, most directly the struggles for unity in Italy and Germany, and according to the European ideal the nation to which it aspired was universal: the Indian nation. The existence under British control of a centrally-organised state called India was of equal importance in giving the elites a supra-regional nationalist vision. In the process of establishing hegemony over the subcontinent, the British had widened the horizons of ambition for the coastal elites, making it feasible for them to attempt an extension of their elite dominance beyond the confines of their regions. India was an exciting concept for them in the 1860s, and it was equally exciting for them in the eighties to discover that this concept gave them common ground for discussion with men elsewhere on the subcontinent, a discus¬ sion facilitated by the same alien lingua franca which had enabled them to work effectively outride their home region. They defined their nationalism universally but they acted exclusively. Each elite, I have said, developed a nationalism as a means of political fulfilment and as a further expression of its identity. As with the other forms of expression many of the manifestations of this nationalism were in practice local and exclusive: regional institutions, regional leaders, regional langu¬ ages, regional symbols, regional heroes and myths, and regional patriotism. In each case there was a passionate attachment to the particular nationalism, and, where the elites met as at the Indian National Congress sessions, the confident belief by each group that it supplied the initiative and the leadership for Indian nationalism. This leads me to some general observations on our perception of Indian nationalism. Most historians have now rejected the con¬ cept of Indian nationalism as a “monolith” —a solid, homogeonous bloc in opposition to the British, committed unquestioningly to one doctrine—but they have replaced that concept with another which is almost as misleading. Many of them have depicted Indian nationalism as some sort of “container” in which were mixed more or less satisfactorily a variety of divergent views and aspirations. So may Indian nationalism appear to the

1HE REGIONAL ELITES

9

detached observer floating above the affairs of the subcontinent on the magic carpet of historical research. So too it has appear¬ ed even to those involved on some occasions when the propo¬ nents of divergent views and aspirations have stood toe to toe to fight out points of disagreement. Where the “container” concept is misleading is that it distracts attention from the essential fact that for most of the time, for most of the groups and individuals to whom nationalism was important, it was and could be only one thing: what they percei¬ ved it to be. Most saw it as a “monolith” not as a “container.” Many would be offended at the suggestion that it was or should be a “container”. This explains why on many of the occasions when events brought the proponents of divergent views face to face, they regarded one another with amazement, disbelief, and incomprehension, and sometimes angrily rejected the other’s claim even to rank as a nationalist. Discomfort and anger in this situation are understandable, for each individual concept of nationalism had been formed in the image of a particular interpret¬ ation of the Indian past, and this particular view of history was the core of each group’s sense of identity. It is this intimate connection between identity and perception of nationalism which explains the emotional involvement of groups—their emotional vested interest—in the maintenance of their particular “mono¬ lithic” nationalism. Because of these factors myths have assumed extraordinary importance. To talk as many do of stripping away the mytho¬ logy surrounding Indian nationalism to uncover the realities, is to overlook the fact that the myths are part of the reality, frequently the most passionately defended part. Without a healthy respect for the potency of mythology and a willingness to give sympathetic attention to myth formation, the observer of the tension between the Indian elites and their rivals will find himself with little ability to comprehend what he sees. Much of the action before him must appear to be shadow play, for much of it will be the conflict of irreconcilable myths. 6. There are two points to be noted about timing in the development of the elites: a. the coastal elites did not develop at equal pace, for example in politics the Tamil Brahmins lagged 20 odd

10

MOSTLY ABOUT BcNGAL

years behind the Bengal bhadralok; nor were the elites which developed on the first beachheads of the British invasion to remain the only elite groups, b. the situation for the elites was never static. For instance, their initial opportunities were extended as the British marched up-country conquering more territory, and members of the elites could follow with the baggage train: Tamil Brahmins through southern and eastern India; Maharashtrian Brahmins throughout the Deccan and into northern India; the Bengal bhadralok into Orissa and Assam, and right up the Gangetic valley. The result was the establishment by each of the elites of colonies beyond their regional frontiers, colonies of English-speaking men who dominated the new professional life of the up-country towns. Then came the contraction of these opportunities with the growth of new regional elites in the hinterland, and with challenges from aspiring counter-elities beneath the old elites in their home regions. Changes in the economy of the subcontinent had opened opportunities for groups in new areas and for new groups in the old areas. Again the timing was not uniform for all three old elite groups, but each was faced at some stage by attacks on its position at home and in its colonies up-country. The result in Bengal was that by the 1890s the bhadralok were faced with growing economic difficulties. What was already a serious situation as a result of population growth which had reduced the per capita income from landed rent holdings and increased the pressure on that limited area of “white-collar” employment which the bhadralok considered respectable, was aggravated by job-competition from local Muslims and low-caste Hindus, who were now acquiring English-language education in small but significant numbers, and by the emer¬ gence throughout the towns of north India of new indigenous educated groups, who demanded of the local Governments the exclusion of “outsiders” from administrative employment. The very fact that they now distinguished the Bengalis as “outsiders” is in itself significant, indicating the development, or at least a new expression, or regional consciousness.

THE REGIONAL ELITES

11

7. For the old elites these challenges from without and with¬ in were both part of one crisis and the appearance of their inter¬ relation was enhanced by the fact that both the new up-country elites and the aspiring counter-elites at home repudiated the leadership of the old elites in the nationalist movement, scorn¬ fully pointing out the disparity between their universal protesta¬ tions and their exclusive actions, and declaring that they had lost touch with the “Indian nation” because of their “Anglicisation.” They had gained their dominance through association with the British, it was said, and were irrevocably committed to the maintenance of the imperial structure, whether under British control or their own. New leaders from newly emerging groups were produced by the up-country areas, with new concepts of nationalism and an appeal aimed at all the new aspiring groups. Thus Gandhi, a banya lvom Gujarat, attempting to influence Bengal politics in 1920 directed his appeal for a mass movement to the Muslims and low-caste Hindus, the aspiring counter-elite in Bengal. The vulnerability of the old elites to criticism and the diffi¬ culty which they had in countering the influence of the new nationalists points to a significant fact: that those administrative and entrepreneurial skills which had carried them so successfully into the British system, and which had become formal measures of elite achievement as the new cultures were given structure in the nineteenth century, were no longer of great advantage—if indeed they were not of positive disadvantage—in the changed political conditions of the twentieth century. The skills which political leaders had to command if they were to be effective in the new situation were those of brokerage and communication. They had to be capable of articulating and aggregating interests, of manipulating popular symbols and imagery to give expression to wider political identities. The old elites were ill-fitted and illinclined to perform these roles. 8. The connection between the two challenges to the old elites’ dominance—the challenges from up-country and at home—was not in fact as close as it appeared to be, for the aspiring counterelites in the old areas did not readily accept the proferred leader¬ ship from outside or the proferred redefinition of nationalism. They had their own definitions, and, as with the elites they were trying to displace, the context of these definitions

12

MOSTLY ABOUT BENGAL

was regional. The aspiring counter-elites valued the home ground as much as did the old elites and were determined to battle with them for its possession. In each of these areas, elite and counter-elite became engaged in bitter in-fighting, and they were left struggling on the periphery of a nationalist movement which was henceforth directed from the new areas by a leader¬ ship which had far less regional commitment. This suggests two points: a. that in the old areas there were strong regional identifica¬ tions by the second decade of the twentieth century, resulting from the development of complex social structures with internal centres of power, status and wealth, the control of which was keenly contested. b. that similar regional identifications had not developed in what I have called the new areas, and apparently as a consequence the new nationalist leadership could act as well as talk universally. 9. Looked at from one angle, the “universalist” nationalism of the post-1920 leadership can be understood as a result of the development of nationalist sentiment among more sections of society in widespread areas of the subcontinent, who could respond to attacks on the regional and exclusive disposition of the old elites. This does not, however, explain how the new leadership could define their nationalism universally, nor how they could escape primary involvement in regional affairs. For that explanation I believe we must look at the character of the three areas which supplied most of the nationalist leadership from the twenties into the early sixties: the U.P., Bihar and Gujarat. I see four reasons for Gujarat's production of “universalist” nationalists: a. the Maharashtrian elite had previously dominated the institutions of this area of Bombay province, as they had all other areas outside Bombay city. b. Gujarati families with political ambitions could satisfy those ambitions in the service of the native states which were thick on the ground in this area. It is significant, I

THE REGIONAL ELITES

13

think, that Gandhi’s family was in this line of business. c. the splintering of Gujarat between the native states and a conglomerate British Indian province like Bombay, with its cosmopolitan coastal capital discouraged the develop¬ ment of regional consciousness. d. the banyas who became so prominent in the Gujarati Congress had a supra-regional culture (Vaisnavism-Jainism) and most had family connections throughout India’s trading centres. Bihar is a comparable case: a. this was a “colonial” area for the Bengal bhadralok into the first decade of this century and an indigenous elite had difficulty in raising its head as a consequence. c. Bihar was but one part of a wider cultural and linguistic region, embracing the U.P., Delhi and sections of the Punjab, Rajputana and Central India. Most important, for the U P. as well as Bihar, this was the seat of the classical Indian imperial tradition. If the idea of a univer¬ sal India had any historic home this was surely it. There are special and particularly interesting features in the U.P. case. Here, it appears, the continued dominance of the great landholders from the Mughal into the British period, as a result of the protective policy of the “Oudh School,” prevented the rise of an elite of the Bengal Maharashtrian variety. The great landholders, with their Indo-Persian “husk culture” (as Anthony Low has called it), their social dominance, and their control of political institutions, were in fact the elite at least until the 1920s, and those who challenged them could best do so through that universalist and “anti-dominant” nationalism of the new elites and counter-elites. The Nehrus, Tandon, Kidwai and their ilk, in shaking themselves off the coattails of the great landholders could use local discontents to advantage (viz., their use of the kisans) but they were not embarrassed by detailed regional commitments. 10. The effect of this extra-regional stance on the part of the nationalist opponents of the great landholders were to leave the U.P. without one clearly dominant group as the power of those

14

MOSTLY ABOUT BENGAL

landholders declined in the 1930s. The regional struggles from the late thirties to the present have been concerned as much with the contest between rival caste and class groups over the redistribution of power, as with the task of wresting that power from the great landholders. In Maharashtra and Tamilnad new, relatively stable counter¬ elites were firmly in power by the 50s. In West Bengal the partition had allowed the bhadralok to reassert themselves in a remnant of their former domain. But in the U.P. no one clearly dominant elite has yet emerged. The struggle goes on and the political bosses of Congress balance dexterously but dangerous¬ ly on the rolling balls of the struggle.

THE REGIONAL ELITES

15

Appendix A To Chapter 1

Paul Brass, September 17, 1964 p

To get to the substance of your first letter, let me see if I can state in a few sentences your premises and arguments. It seems to me that you start with the argument that, under British rule, elite social groups were formed, the members of which lacked political power. These elite groups sought both political power and an identity; both desires found expression in nationalism. Although the members of these groups thought they were Indian nationalists, actually their nationalism had a very large regional content. In the coastal areas, new aspirant elite groups arose to contest the leadership of the old elites, but they shared the regional preoccupations of the groups they were trying to replace. A new, universalistic nationalism arose in the hinterland areas primarily for reasons peculiar to each region. I definitely agree with your perspective on the regions of India and with your view that the way nationalism developed in India varied from region to region because of forces operating within each region. However, it does not seem to me always possible to relate the kind of ideology of nationalism which developed in each region to the kind of elite competition that you describe. That is, I don’t dispute the validity of your

16

MOSTLY ABOUT BENGAL

description for the coastal areas. Where I differ (and I realize that you were hesitant on these points) is in the idea in point 9, of your earlier statement that unique, regional factors which arose in the modern period explain the development of a universalistic nationalism in the hinterland areas. I don't know a thing about Gujarat, but it seems to me that there are deeper histo¬ rical reasons for the development of a broader nationalism in U.P. than elsewhere. I think the reasons for the all-India nationalism of U.P. leaders are, first, that U.P. lies in an area which has always been part of the imperial traditions in India* and, second, because the language and culture of U.P. are clearly supra-regional. To assert their identity, Bengalis, Tamils,, and Maharashtrians must insist on their separateness. People in the Hindi-speaking areas have gone through the same search for identity, but they do not need territorial separateness to express it. Rather, they express their identity by saying that their view of India and of Indian nationalism is the real one. They assert the greatness of their language and culture by identifying it with that of all India, rather than by declaring their separateness. I think that there was, in every region of India, a distinction between secular nationalists and “cultural nationalists” or “revivalists.” U.P. produced both Nehru and Tandon. Your definition of “universalist nationalism” would include both of them. However, I think they must be separated because they represent both two nationalisms and two different kinds of social backgrounds. The Nehrus came from a synthetic cultural backgrounds, which included both membership in the Kashmiri Brahman community and service in the Moghul administration. Tandon, as his biography says, came from “a respected Khatri family,” a very big difference. Interestingly enough, it was not the Nehrus who started the fight against the landlords, but Tandon. Frankly, 1 don’t think that the fight against the land¬ lords had very much to do with the kind of nationalist ideology which developed in U.P., except that it focused attention on economic rather than cultural issues. Anyway, the Nehrus were really exceptional. A small band of truly secular nationa¬ lists developed in U.P. under the leadership of Rafi Ahmad Kidwai. However, the predominant form of nationalism in U.P. has been the cultural nationalism of Tandon and the Jan Sangh*

THE REGIONAL ELITES

17

which might be described as “great Hindi chauvinism.” It was suppressed in the U.P. Congress after the resignation of Tandon in 1951, but it has been kept alive by opposition leaders and is still latent among many Congressmen. Nevertheless, the Congress in U.P., thanks to Nehru, still stands for secular nationalism, even though some Congressmen may be Hindu-Hindi chauvinists at heart. The elite that runs the Congress comes from the high caste (Brahman and Thakur largely) ex-tenants of the big landlords and from the petty zamindars in the countryside and from the middle class of pro¬ fessional people, educators, merchants, and tradesmen in the towns. The language of conflict in U.P. (that is, when conflict is not purely factional or personal) revolves around both eco¬ nomic and cultural-communal issues. I think that economic issues predominate now and that they will continue to do so and I think this is good for the maintenance of the secular nationalist tradition in U P. To sum up what I’m saying: I want to add on to the question of regionalism-nationalism the question of secular, economic nationalism versus cultural-communal nationalism; it strikes me that this division exists in all regions in India; different nationalist attitudes arise in different regions when the culturalcommunal nationalists become strong. What Nehru wanted was to drop these cultural issues altogether and to focus on the issues of economic development. Of course, economic devel¬ opment raises regional issues of another kind, but that is another matter. John Broomfield, September 24, 1964 Paul, I’m in wholehearted agreement with your points about the supra-regional character of the language, culture and Imperial heritage of the U.P. This is a point I had overlooked and I think it is crucial to an understanding of the ability of the U.P. wallahs to find their identity in ‘India’ rather than their region. I think the same argument applies to Bihar does it not? I’ve been doing quite a lot of thinking about Gujarat since I first constructed my edifice, and I can now offer the following hypotheses for the appearance of ‘universalist’ nationalism there: 1. that Gujerat was a ‘colonial’ area for the

18

MOSTLY ABOUT BENGAL

Maharashtrian brahmins until perhaps the second decade of this century and an indigenous elite had difficulty in raising its head as a consequence. My analogies would be with the Bengali bhadralok in Bihar and Orissa, and the Tamil brahmins in Andhra; 2. that families with political ambitions in Gujerat in the nineteenth century could realize those ambitions in the service of the native states, which were thick on the ground in this region. It is significant, I think, that Gandhi’s family was in this line of business; 3. that the culture from which the Gujerati nationalists came, was as supra-regional as that of the U.P.: Vaisnavite/Jain. This leads me to a point of disagreement with you. As I have suggested in these three points on Gujerat, I don’t think that the existence in any region of a supra-regional culture need be taken as the only factor influencing the development of ‘universalist’ nationalism there. The particularities of the region’s social structure and political development may still be of significance, and this 1 think was the case in the U.P. It does seem to me important that the great landholders retained suchpower in this region under the umbrella of the Oudh School and I am unconvinced that this did not affect the form of nationalism developed in the U.P. As an argument against the straight correlation of supra-regional culture with universalist political expression, I would point to the U.P. great landholders themselves. They were definitely in the Indian Imperial tradi¬ tion, with the language and culture of the wider ‘India’, but their politics were downright exclusive and parochial. I still think that the U.P. nationalists formed themselves, to a degree at least, in the inverse image of these landholders. It was from this point that 1 led on to the last paragraph of my outline (# 10), and your letter left me uncertain as to what you thought °f that paragraph. If I interpret your letter correct¬ ly you are saying that a universalist nationalism developed in the U.P., but that there were bitter debates within that univer¬ salist nationalism between the secular nationalists and the cultural nationalists. Further that fights on issues important to these two groups are still the big fights in U.P. politics today. If I have got this right, am I then right in thinking that you disagree with my proposition in paragraph 10 that the U.P. is unlike the peripheral areas (West Bengal, Madras and

THE REGIONAL ELITES

19

Maharashtra) which have stable dominant elites? Are you saying that the struggle between social groups, or, alternatively, the need to balance a number of equally strong social groups, is not a significant factor in U.P. politics? Gene [Eugene Irschick] has made two or three points which I thought I might pass on to you. In relation to the development of the ‘coastal’ elites, he has drawn attention to the immense significance of the urban centers: Calcutta, Madras city, Poona/ Bombay: and to the related importance of the three great universities: Calcutta, Madras and Bombay. In relation to the question of timing, he has pointed out that for the Tamil brahmins the challenge from the counter-elite at home (Non¬ brahmins) came before the challenge from up-country elites (e.g. Telugu people). The Non-Brahmin trouble coming in the middle of the second decade, and the Telugu people not getting really “ugly” until the 1930s. This is unlike the Bengali experience, where the up-country trouble came first (from the Punjab and U.P. by the 1890s) and the home trouble came later (in the second and third decades of this century). Robert Crane, November 27, 1964 The last paragraph of page 1 of John Broomfield’s note of July 20: “Nearly all saw it [nationalism] as a ‘monolith’, not as a ‘container’.” But we know of leaders who did see it as a move¬ ment which could ‘contain’ varied interests and objectives. “Nearly all would be offended at the suggestion that it was or should be a ‘container’.” None the less, I feel that it was an imperative that an effec¬ tive Indian nationalism had to subsume, or contain, in its ‘ranks’, a variety of interests and attitudes and responses, even while they jockeyed for control. A relevant part of the dyna¬ mics of development of Indian nationalism was the tension between groups or ideologies and it is necessary to trace out the struggles through which an articulation of diverse aims came to be more or less effectively achieved. I would also argue that the British presence prodded the various ‘groups’ within nationalism to seek such accommodation so as to become an effective and adequately ‘unified’ movement. If there had been no foreign rule, I suspect there would have been all too little

20

MOSTLY ABOUT BENGAL

reason for the development of an Indian nationalism. But, foreign rule caused a variety of Indian interests and groupings to ‘need’ to coalesce. This, given the existing situation, meant a search for unity in a movement which could subsume, in its larger ranks, the desires and goals of regional or social or eco¬ nomic elites. Gandhi, I suppose, represents the expression of the need to ‘bury the hatchet’ so as to get on with the task at hand. He surely tried to forge a nationalism around which most Indians could unite, i.e. to contain a wide variety of nationalist groups and leaders. “as subject people of a foreign imperialism they did not have political power.” They had a form of political power in so far as they ‘media¬ ted’ between the Raj and the Indian. As middlemen they had a lot of more or less subtle economic and ‘political’ power. “they were left struggling on the periphery of the nationalist movement.” Not necessarily. The struggle could be part of a moving equilibrium and a new balance, hence allowing the continuity which John rightly emphasises earlier in the paper. “the new leadership could define their nationalism universal¬ ly and could escape primary involvement in regional affairs.” Tends to miss the point that the search for validation based upon mass support enhanced the power of universal symbols. As a general comment, John, I would say that you throw baby out with bath. The nine pages pretty much overlook the role of the British. But, it was against the British foil that each region and its proto-elites had to develop. The Raj set many of the ‘ground-rules’ within which the various elites and counter¬ elites had to struggle. It is precisely in the interaction between the Raj—in its various manifestations—and the regional elites and emerging elites that we must look for an important ‘engine’ for the dynamics of development. The Raj played a number of roles in various areas and in various periods which affected the position and interests and stance of the emergent and rival sub-elites. This comment does not deny the validity of the hypotheses advanced in this mimeo panel discussion, but it does insist upon the relevance of the British impact, both in its positive and in its negative sense, for the emergence and transformation of the various regional settings. At each point

THE REGIONAL ELITES

21

in the specific cases I have studied it has struck me that it was the local manifestation of the British presence—in interaction— which set the stage for the internal dialogue belween the vari¬ ous contestant parties. By the way, I am not impressed by the present formulation of the ‘causes’ of the universal nationalist setting. I think it needs more detailed study, and more attention to the develop¬ ment of‘universal’ grievances as British rule spread its ‘conse¬ quences’ more widely and bit more deeply into larger segments of Indian society. I fear you have inadvertently assumed a static British impact in lieu of a static native society. My ‘indi¬ genous’ sources tell me the Indians were always responding to British ‘inputs’ in terms of their own distinctive regional tradi¬ tions, interests, and preoccupations until it became more impor¬ tant to respond to the general British challenge in a universal manner. Bernard Cohn, December 28, 1964 I have little to add of intellectual substance to the working document, other than to raise questions about the two major concepts—“region” and “elite”. (a) Region: Substantively discussed.

three

kinds

of

regions are

(1) Bengal, Tamilnad, Maharashtra. In each of these there was a group with a self-consciousness of regional identity (Chitpavans in Maharashtra?), Brahmins in Tamilnad, Bhadralok in Bengal. On the surface, each one of these groups in origin and structure is very different. The Chitpavans seem the most coherently organized from a sociological point of view, common traditions, endogamous, diagnostic customs and linguistic habits (e.g., their Kanbani accent). The Bhadralok are of the nature of a cate¬ gory not a group. The Brahmins of Tamilnad are more like the Bhadralok than the Chitpavans. What are the characteristics of these three regions:

MOSTLY ABOUT BENGAL

22 (a) (b) (c) (d)

Linguistic Cultural/historical Political (fits mainly Maharashtra) The belief or myth in the 19th and 20th centuries on the part of “elites” that they are regions.

It seems tome that “d” is the significant characteristic. (2) U.P. From the discussion, I gather the feeling that U.P. is a non-region. It has none of the charac¬ teristics of type 1. The fact that U.P. is a non-region comes out strongly in Brass’ dissertation. Another factor is the complexity of elites historically and contemporaneously in the area. Paul’s use of Tandon and the Nehrus as symbols is interesting. In a very real sense, U.P. had a pre-modern cosmopo¬ litan culture among its elites; in a way I don’t think other regions have. This is Anthony Low’s “IndoPersian ‘husk culture’.” This culture was found in most cities in the 18th century including Bombay, Poona, Calcutta and Hyderabad in the south. So that in a real sense, U.P.’s “elite” was a “national” elite in the 18th and early 19th century; and very different from the elites of Bengal, Tamilnad and Maharashtra, in that they did not conceive of them¬ selves as part of a region, with a self-conscious past regionally defined. Since the elite was national in its orientation, they did not develop a regional consciousness. (3) The latent regions. If Bengal, Tamilnad and Maharashtra are clearly regions with a regional elite and U.P. is a “non-region” with a national elite, there were in the 19th century latent regions in a cultural sense. I would say the Punjab and Rajasthan are examples of latent regions which do not develop regional character until the mid-20th century. (b) The definition of “elite”. In a hierarchical complex society, someone always has

THE REGIONAL ELITES

23

“social power”. I think they (that is the elites) always had even under Imperialism political power as well. In the sense that they could get people to do what was wanted, even the British. The question is why did some elites take to the style of nationalistic political activity and others didn’t. Why did some turn to regional politics, others national, still others commercial or educational affairs. I don’t think the use of the concept should only be restricted to those who went into politics in an overt organized way. What is needed is an analysis of relationships within regions and on the national scene of different kinds of elites. John Broomfield, January 1, 1965 In conversation O.P. Goyal (Chandigarh political scientist who is visiting Michigan for the year) raised a number of points which are pertinent to Barney’s comments. He too asked for my criteria in the selection of elites and regions, and looking back over my notes it was apparent to us that I had restricted my attention to those elites in British India which (to use Barney’s words) ‘went into politics in an overt organized way.” Goyal pointed out that this excluded the political elites in the princely states, who played a distinct and important role during the transfer of power, and in some areas emerged as a significant element in state politics after integration (as did for example the PEPSU group in Punjab politics). He pointed to contrasts in the roles which the elites can play: a. some regional elites can also play the role of national elites (e.g. those of the U.P. and Bihar); b. some regional elites in becoming national elites cease to be regional elites (e.g. Tamil brahmins and some Maha¬ rashtrian brahmins); c. some elites can only play the role of national elites (e.g. Marwaris and other business groups). Reinforcing Paul’s and Barney’s points about the identification of U.P. wallahs with India or the whole Hindi-speaking area rather than the state of U.P., Goyal drew attention to the

MOSTLY ABOUT BENGAL

24

contrast between men from the Hindi- and Punjabi-speaking areas of the Punjab, the latter playing a far more active role in regional politics and the former identifying to a greater extent with national affairs. He believes that a number of structural factors encourage ambitious men from the Hindi areas to turn to national politics. Among them: a. the location of the capital of India; b. the very large representation in the Lok Sabha from the populous Hindi states, which provides big opportunities for power fora Hindi-speaking politician who concentrates on the Center. In this connection he points to the interaction between factions in national politics and factions in U.P. politics. All of which seems to me to lend support to Barney’s and Paul’s character¬ isation of the U.P. as a ‘non-region’. Fuither thoughts of my own. I did not intend to throw ‘baby out with bath’ and am glad Bob Crane emphasised the dynamic and varied role of the British. I would take advantage of this point to amend my original comment on nationalism to read: “For this the inspiration was European, and also accord¬ ing to the European ideal the nation to which it aspired was universal: the Indian nation.” Certainly the struggles for Italian and German unity were models which directly influenced the early nationalist thinking of the Indian political elites. “(Mazzini had taught Italian unity. We wanted Indian unity.” Surendranath Benerjea: A Nation in Making, p. 43.) But the existence under British control of a centralised state called India was obviously of equal importance in giving the elites a supra-regional nationalist ambition. For India at least, Lord Acton’s dictum seems to hold true: “The nation is not the cause, but the result, of the State. It is the State which creates the nation, not the nation the state.” I would underline the point made by both Bob and Barney that the elites did have political power under the British. The failure by both ‘classical’ schools of modern Indian history— British and nationalist—to recognise this fact, has led to mis¬ interpretation in a number of areas:

THE REGIONAL ELITES

25

1. the British are incorrectly represented as having been free agents in constitutional reconstruction; 2. British attempts to use constitutional reform as a way to change the power relationships between elites and counterelites has been largely underestimated and the consequent grave dangers to order have been overlooked. (I can trace direct connections, for instance, between the British constitutional‘fiddling’in Bengal from 1917 to 1921, to disadvantage the bhadralok in favor of the Muslims, and the disastrous communal rioting in 1926); 3. the leaders of the political elites have not been given due credit for the self-restraint and concern for the mainten¬ ance of order which they usually displayed in the exer¬ cise of their power. Nor conversely have the limitations imposed upon them by the responsibilities of power been recognised; 4. the contest between elites and counter-elites has normally been seen as a contest for future power not for the control of present power. A major reason for this failure to recognise that the elites had political power under the British is that‘politics’appears to have been defined too narrowly. Again a consequence of the classical schools’ exclusive concern with the struggle between the Indian nationalists and the British for control of the state. Even Muslim or Tamil non-brahmin communalism has frequent¬ ly been seen simply as anti-nationalism. I think we should be careful in our discussion of the elites to avoid this equation of politics with nationalism—an equation which my highly-con¬ densed first outline may have appeared to make.

2 The Partition of Bengal: A Problem in British Administration, 1830-1912

Why was Bengal partitioned in 1905 and repartitioned in 1912? This is a question which has engaged Indian historians, particularly Bengalis, in recent years. I should like to approach the enquiry from a different angle. Why, I should like to ask, was it in 1905 and 1912 that Bengal was partitioned, and not, for argument’s sake, in 1895 or 1875? This is a pertinent ques¬ tion, for Bengal had been a problem to the British Government in India for more than 80 years before Lord Curzon took his fateful decision in 1903. There had certainly been earlier attempts to grapple with the problem, but it was not until the first decade of the twentieth century that anyone ventured to grasp it firmly. The aim of this paper is to suggest some of the reasons why a decision was so long delayed, and why it was taken when it was. I must emphasise that I can offer no more than suggestions, for this aspect of the Partition of Bengal awaits detailed investigation. I am convinced that such an investigation would provide answers that are at present being sought elsewhere. It will have been observed that the subtitle to the paper is “a problem in British Administration”. It is important to realise that, to the Biitish Government in India, Bengal presented a

THE PARTITION OF BENGAL

27

knotty administrative problem throughout most of the nine¬ teenth century. This area first came under British control after the battles of Plassey (1757) and Buxar (1764). In 1765 Emperor Shah Alam was induced to grant to the East India Company the Diwani of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa, but it was not until 1772, when Warren Hastings became Governor, that the Company took direct control. Two years later Hastings became GovernorGeneral, with some authority over Madras and Bombay, and immediate responsibility for Bengal. Each addition to the Company’s territories in northern India saw the expansion of the boundaries of Bengal, and by 1826 the Presidency extended well beyond Delhi in the west, and into the Valley of Assam in the east. The stage was set for a play that ran for more than 80 years ending in grim tragedy. Bengal was too large for its Government—either it had to be reduced in size, or its Govern¬ ment had to be reconstructed. These, we shall find, were the alternatives with which the British worked throughout the century. The first move was territorial: in 1836 the Presidency was divided, a separate Lieutenant-Governorship of the NorthWestern Provinces, extending from the Bihar frontier to the Sutlej, being created. This was followed by the reform of the Bengal Government. In 1843 a provincial secretariat was estab¬ lished, and in 1854 the Governor-General was provided with a subordinate to relieve him of immediate responsibility for Bengal. The charge of the new Lieutenant-Governor was considerable. It comprised Bengal proper, Bihar, Orissa, Assam, Arakan, Chota Nagpur, and tributary states, with a total area of approxi¬ mately 253,000 square miles.1 This may be compared with the area of the present state of West Bengal, viz. 33,928 square miles. The population was estimated at the time at 40 millions but it may have been ten nvllions more. That of Calcutta was probably between four and five hundred thousand.2 1Report on the Administration of Public Affairs in the Bengal Presid¬ ency 1855-56 (Calcutta, 1856) p. 1. 2See C.E. Buck'.and: Bengal Under

the

Lieutenant-Governors,

1854-

1898 (Calcutta, 1901) vol I, p. 5; Kingsley Davis: The Population of India and Pakistan (Princeton, 1951) p. 132; J.F. Baness: Index Geographicus

Indicus (London,

1881) pp. 9, 53 & 61; Imperial Gazetteer

of India (London, 1907-9, vol. VII, pp. 222-6.

28

MOSTLY ABOUT BENGAL

The Government of Bengal at this time differed in a number of important respects from the Governments of Bombay and Madras, the two other Presidencies. They were headed by full Governors, men selected from English public life who might communicate directly with the Board of Control in England, and who were assisted by Executive Councils. The LieutenantGovernor of Bengal, a Civilian, governed alone, and was respon¬ sible, in the first instance, to the Governor-General. This position, though apparently anomalous in view the importance of the province, may be understood if it is remembered that the Lieutenant-Governor of Bengal was only one of two LieutenantGovernors in the Presidency, and that his capital was also that of the Governor-General, but it placed the Government of Bengal in a peculiar relationship to the Government of India throughout the period under review. The two were so intimately associated, and the Imperial establishment so overshadowed the provincial, that there was little hope that suggestions for major reforms in Bengal would be judged primarily in terms of local needs. The history of the Bengal Administration in the half-century after 1854 reveals three great watersheds: the mutiny of 1857; the Orissa Famine of 1866-67; and the latter years of Lord Curzon’s Viceroyalty, 1902-5. The Mutiny precipitated reforms which had long been under consideration. There was, of course, the fundamental change effected by the Crown’s assumption of direct control of India in 1858. This was followed immediately by the codification of Indian law, and in Bengal by a reform of the judiciary. The Lieutenant-Governor was given powers of legislation and a council to assist him in their exer¬ cise, while the lower administration in the province was brought into line with the greater part of British India by the union of the offices of Collector and Magistrate. Some attempt was made to establish a system of local government, and there was a reform of the police organisation. In addition, the LieutenantGovernorship was reduced in size by the transfer of Arakan to the new Province of British Burma formed in 1862. Arakan was neither populous nor important. Its transfer did little to lighten the burden of the Bengal Government—and by the 1860s the weight of that burden was crushing. The popula¬ tion of this huge and fertile region was increasing at the rate of

THE PARTITION OF BENGAL

29

some five hundred thousand a year, but its administration remained virtually unchanged. The Government was fighting a spirited but losing battle to meet the growing demands for its services. This was revealed with stark clarity by the famine which struck Orissa in 1866. The Lieutenant-Governor, Sir Cecil Beadon, broken in health by the impossible demands of his. office and served by an inadequate Administration, was unequal to the colossal task of relief with which he was confronted. Hundreds of thousands of people died, and the Secretary of State and the Government of India awoke too late to a realisa¬ tion that all was not well with the constitution of Bengal. The result was a full-scale enquiry into the Government and Administration of the Province. Its scope was very wide, and the minutes, memoranda and reports produced form a file of extraordinary proportions.3 In terms of practical reforms, how¬ ever, the achievement was negligible. The blame for this lay chiefly with the Secretary of State, Sir Stafford Northcote. Had he laid proper emphasis upon the two questions which he rightly regarded as fundamental—whether the province should be divided, and whether its Lieutenant-Governor (or Governor) should have the assistance of an Executive Council4—this excel¬ lent opportunity of solving the Bengal problem might not have gone begging. The immediate need was for reforms in Bengal, but Northcote allowed discussion to wander over every aspect of Indian administration, and to dissipate itself in profitless argument. Exasperated by the resultant stalemate, Sir Bartle Frere, ex-Governor of Bombay who had sat as a member of the enquiry committee, wrote a masterly expose of the inadequacy of Bengal’s administration. Analysing the number of civil servants provided for the province, he said: We find that for every five millions of people inhabiting a country larger, richer, and more important in every way, except fighting power, than most third class European sove¬ reignties, we have one-eighth of a Lieutenant-Governor, about

3The selection presented to Parliament ran to 151 printed folio pages_ P.P. 1867-68 (256) vol. XL.1X, pp. 161-311. 4See his memorandum dated 16 September, 1867,

ibid.,

pp. 163-164.

30

MOSTLY ABOUT BENGAL

28| English gentlemen, Covenanted Civilians, and about 112 Uncovenanted gentlemen. It must be borne in mind that these numbers comprise the whole of the administrative machinery of this vast pro¬ vince, with the most trifling exceptions. The duties which the great feudal chiefs perform in other parts of India, and in most parts of Europe, or which the unpaid administration performs in our own country, are not fulfilled by any class in Bengal. . . . With these facts before us, can we say that Bengal has any¬ thing but the shadow of an administration? Can we wonder at a breakdown like that of Orissa? or that of the late Lieutenant-Governor’s two predecessors? ... It is true that of late years there has been a nibbling at improvement, both in police and judicial administration; but what has been attempted bears no proportion to the wants of the country, and Bengal is still practically ungoverned for that is the long and short of the Commission’s report on it, and all that we have seen and heard during the late famine.5 Frere had the wholehearted support of the LieutenantGovernor, Sir William Grey, who declared that his Government was the greatest anomaly existing in India. Bengal was the largest and most important province, and should, in his opinion, be at least on a par with Bombay and Madras. “I have no hesitation in affirming, that at present the Lieutenant-Governor of Bengal is overweighted, to an extent neither fair to the individual nor (which is of more importance) to the interest of the province, or rather provinces, which constitute the Lieute¬ nant Governorship,” he wrote.6 Five years later his successor, John Campbell, was echoing his words. “It is totally impos¬ sible”, he declared, “that any man can properly perform singlehanded the work of this great Government.”7 Despite these eloquent appeals no major reform was under¬ taken. Assam was constituted a separate province, certainly, but even this was delayed seven years, in spite of its recommendation Memorandum dated 2 December 1867, ibid., pp., 204-205. ‘Grey to Sir John Lawrence, 6 July 1867, ibid., pp. 165-166. 7P.P., 1906 [Cd. 2746] vol. LXXXI, p. 637.

THE PARTITION OF BENGAL

31

by all connected with the famine enquiry. In addition, another secretary was provided for the Bengal Government, but the suggestion of an Executive Council to assist the LieutenantGovernor was shelved, in deference to the convictions of that confirmed Punjab paternalist, the Governor-General Sir John Lawrence, and his supporters, who held firmly to their belief that council government was inferior to personal government. The enquiry was of great importance in the history of Partition, none¬ theless, for it represented the first major attempt to grapple with the Bengal problem. The file produced in 1867 was henceforth the textbook on Bengal to which all referred.8 Sir Henry Durand, military member of the Viceroy’s council, writing in that book of wisdom, observed that the problem was not to be solved by administrative readjustments: “This top dressing, so to speak, does not touch the root of the evil,” he said.9 By the end of the century it was painfully clear that Durand had been right. Since 1854 Bengal had been reduced in area by nearly a quarter, but despite this its population had risen from forty or fifty to almost eighty millions. It is asto¬ nishing to realise that that was well over a quarter of the popu¬ lation of the entire subcontinent.10 Add to this the immense expansion in Governmental activity in the second half of the nineteenth century,11 and some appreciation will be gained of the colossal task confronting the Lieutenant-Governor. “Bengal is unquestionably too large a charge for any single man”, wrote ’E.g. see Government of India to Secretary of State, 2 February 1905, ibid., pp. 638-41; Secretary of State to Government of India, 27 November 1908, P.P., 1908 [Cd. 4426] vol. LXXVI, Pt. 1, p. 52; Govern¬ ment

of India

to

Secretary

of State, 25 August 1911, P.P., 1911

5979] vol. LV, p. 588. 9Minute dated 27 February 1968,

P.P.,

1867-68

(256)

vol.

[Cd.

XLIX,

p. 247. “Imperial Gazetteer, op. cit., vol. Vil, pp. 194 & 222-226. 11E.g. compare the lists of Government departments given in the Reports on the Administration of Bengal, 1855-56 and 1904-05. In the former year there were 14 departments, in the latter 30, including such novelties as Legislation; Municipal Administration and Local SelfGovernment; Forests; Manufactures, Mines, and Factories; Statistics; Vaccination; and Veterinary Services. In the same period the total revenue of the province had risen from Rs. 110,800,168 to Rs. 231 853,000. (Appendices to the Bengal Administration Report, 185859, p. 78; Report on the Administration of Bengal, 1904-05, p. 102.)

32

MOSTLY ABOUT BENGAL

Curzon early in 1902.12 This statement had by then become a cliche dishonoured by 70 years of official inaction. What followed must therefore be regarded as remarkable. Within ten years Bengal was twice partitioned; its Government was provid¬ ed with an Executive Council; the Lieutenant-Governor was replaced by a Governor; and the capital of India was removed from Calcutta to New Delhi. The details of these developments are well known, and there¬ fore we can proceed to a consideration of the questions: why was a solution to the Bengal problem so long delayed, and why was it attempted in 1905? The answer to the first question is the key to the second. It has been observed that the alterna¬ tives—the division of the province, or the expansion of its Government—were understood by the British from the first. Why was one or the other not applied? Firstly, it appears* because there was a reluctance to share, or even on occasions, to delegate, authority, and this extended right down the line from Governor-General to District Officer. It may be pointed out quite correctly, that this statement runs counter to thegreat bulk of writing on the I.C.S., but the evidence on Bengal leaves the writer in no doubt as to its validity for that province at least. The opposition of successive Governors-General and their councillors to the provision of an Executive Council for Bengal exemplifies it. A major reason for this was, undoubtedly, the periodic disagreements between the Government of India and the rather independent Governors and Executive Councils, of Madras and Bombay, and (less frequently), between those Governors and their Councils. The Government of India argued, rather illogically, from this that a Governor (or Lieute¬ nant-Governor) was weakened by the delegation of power to Councillors. In rejecting a Bengali suggestion in 1904 for a reconstitution of Government rather than the partition of the province, Curzon and his advisors declared that the idea of giving the Lieutenant-Governor a Council “must be set aside absolutely and without hesitation as a solution of the present difficulty. . . personal methods of government are better

12Curzon to Lord George Hamilton, April 1902, Earl of Ronaldshayi The Life of Lord Curzon (London, 1928) vol. II, p. 321.

'IHE PAR IITION OF BENGAL

3a

suited to the circumstances of India, and produce superior results.”13 The unwillingness to delegate authority is also reflected in the relations between the Government of India and the Govern¬ ment of Bengal. In the discussions which followed the Orissa tragedy, and in those which preceded the removal of the capital to Delhi, it was generally agreed that the Government of India pressed so heavily upon the Government of Bengal as at times to render the latter a mere cypher.14 In 1863 the GovernorGeneral, John Lawrence, disagreed with this opinion, but pro¬ ceeded to give the lie to his argument by recommending the abolition of the Bengal Legislative Council. The affairs of the province could be adequately handled by the Imperial Council, he declared, and the LieutenanCGovernor would be better occupied as a member of that Council than in managing one of his own.10 Curzon once complained that a sparrow could not twitter its tail without this being attributed to direct orders from the Viceroy.16 One may surely ask: “Whose fault-sparrow or Viceroy?” It was typical of Curzon—and indeed of the normal relations between the Governments of India and Bengal—that it was he who made the tour of Eastern Bengal in February 1904 to enlist support for Partition, and not the Lieutenant-Governor, Sir Andrew Fraser. Why should not his Government have been encouraged to handle this domestic affair? At the provincial level the failing is seen in the attitude to Lord Ripon’s famous local self-government resolution of 1882. Ripon was a notable exception to the rule, for he emphasised the need to share the increased burdens of administration, and drew attention to the growing number of educated Indians who were willing and able to play their part. His work, however, was frustrated by the opposition of provincial governments, who had little desire to expand representative institutions. The 13Government

of India

to

Secretary

P.P., 1906 [Cd. 2746] vol. LXXXI, pp.

(256), XLIX, pp. 161-311; and Curzon to Ronaldshay, op cit., p.324. “Government of India to

of State,

638-41. See

Secretary

Hamilton, of State,

2 also 28 25

February 1905, P.P., January

1867-68 1904,

• • August 1911,

P.P., 1911 [Cd. 5979] vol. LV, pp 582-588. “Minute, 19 February 1868, P.P., 1867-68, (256) vol, XLIX, p. 227.

MOSTLY ABOUT BENGAL

34

resolution was implemented in Bengal in 1884-5, but for the rest of the century there were repeated attempts by that Government to reduce the elected membership and curtail the powers of local boards. This culminated in the notorious 1899 Calcutta Municipal Act, which returned the Corporation to the control of Government nominees. The District Officers also failed to make proper use of representative boards. There was general agreement, e.g., among those who gave evidence to the Royal Commission on Decentralisation in 1907-8, that these bodies had failed because the District Officers had given them no say in determining policy 17 It is important that we should ask why there was this failure to make proper use of subordinates. One reason, it seems, was the desire to preserve efficiency. The argument was that control had to be kept in the hands of those whom one knew to be capable. Carried to its extreme, this meant oneself. There are indications in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries of an “efficiency cult” in the I.C.S.: as long as Government was efficient nothing else was thought to be of major importance.18 This is the ground on which many Conservative opponents to the Morley-Minto reforms took their stand.19 To a degree it 16Ronaldshay, op. cit., p. 323. l7Hugh Tinker: The Foundations of Local Self Government in India, Pakistan and Burma (London, 1954) pp. 32-63. 18An article in Capital (Calcutta) 26 March 1914, pp. 747-8, exem¬ plifies this view: “The schemes for setting up advisory councils and other frills of that kind look attractive enough on paper, but for administrative purposes they are “not business” .... It is a case of amateur versus expert administration, and our sympathy is with the expert. Before new authorities are formed, we shall require proof that (1) the present system shows a decline in efficiency; (2) that indigenous govern¬ ment is superior, or likely to be superior. We see no evidence of any decline in the efficiency of the executive office's of Government, despite the increasing complexity of their work, and we see much to make us doubt whether they could be usefully supplanted by the gentlemen who talk so much of public service and do so little to surround such service with

associations

of honesty and

efficiency . . .

despite tub-thumping

assertions to the contrary, we still contend that efficiency which is India’s greatest need.” l9E.g . see Bampfylde Fuller:

“Qup

Vadis?

Pol tics”, Nineteenth Century and After, vol. 1909) pp. 711-726. .

A

LXV

it is administrative Prospect

in

Indian

(London, Jan.-June .

THE PARTITION OF BENGAL

35

was a confusion of means with ends. The second reason that may be suggested for this unwilling¬ ness to share authority, and one which is linked with the first,. was a tendency to govern for the sake of the Government, not the governed. Too often in the discussion on the Bengal issue,. both in 1867-8 and 1902-3, it seemed to be the convenience of the Administration which was of primary importance. One of the main purposes of the letter of 3 December 1903 in which* the Government of India informed the Government of Bengal of its plans for the province, was to warn the officials that they must not think too exclusively in terms of their own losses or gains from partition.20 That it was thought necessary to empha¬ sise this point surely indicates that Government for the sake of the Government was a very real danger. “. . . there is a dead wall of official resistance always ready to obstruct anything : which can be twisted into meaning interference with British official rights,” complained Lord Minto, when struggling with opposition to his reform proposals a few years later.21 Here is an important clue to an understanding of the violent Bengali hatred of Partition. The measure was pushed through by the British in the name of administrative convenience against unprecedented protest. The argument of administrative conve¬ nience was considered all sufficient, and opposition was charac¬ terised as ignorant or (more often) selfish and subversive.22 1 Bengal was shocked into the realisation that the British were willing to perpetrate such measures—no matter how unpopular —to benefit the Administration. If the first reason for delay was a reluctance to delegate authority, then the second was an aversion in the Civil Service to major reforms, either territorial or Governmental. If the status quo could be preserved, so much the better; if not, small adjustments were to be preferred to a thorough-going revolution. This explains that “nibbling at improvement” of which Frere complained. To suggest any change was to court widespread opposition. A territorial adjustment, for example, ran headlong 20P.P., 1905 [Cd. 2658] vol. LVIII, p. 204. 21Minto to his wife, 21 March 1907, Lady Minto: India, Morley, 1905-1910 (London, 1935) p. 109. 22E.g. see Sir Andrew Fraser: Among (London, 1911) pp. 319-324.

Indian

Rajahs

Minto

and

and Ryots